Dear Dr. Karel,
As a person who travels with a very senior cat, 19+ years old, do you have any thoughts if they die “on the road”? I know that the sad moment will come and I’m not really ready. Maybe a contributor has thoughts along these lines. I’m pretty sure that this sad event has happened to others reading this newsletter. —Tom P.
I have recently lost several senior cats, so I empathize and understand your worry. Tabitha, Spalding, and July were veteran campers and I had the privilege of their company for up to 21 years. I did not have to deal with their passing while traveling, however.
Are you a full-time RVer or do you take extended trips with your pet?
Stay up to date with vet visits for elderly pets
It is important to know where your pet is in his health timeline and if there are any other health problems contributing. That means speaking candidly to your vet, who may recommend more frequent exams and tests to stay on top of their health. For instance, a 19-year-old cat is living with failing kidneys. There is no way around it; if they live that long their kidneys start to wear out. They won’t get seriously sick until they have lost 75 percent of their renal function. Even if they are healthy in every other way, the kidneys will fail eventually. Dogs may live with cancer and show no signs until they are suddenly seriously sick. This is why regular vet exams are important.
But the most important thing is how your pet feels, are they eating well, drinking, and alert? How is his/her weight? If your pet is not eating and losing weight, those are big red flags. You know your pet best and it may be time to make some tough decisions.
If your pet is feeling okay, research the available emergency vet clinics in the places you will be staying and have the list with addresses and phone numbers ready. Make sure to bring your kitty’s medical records with you. Here is a piece about finding vet services on the road that may be helpful.
What to do when the time comes
If you are at home, arrange with your vet for end-of-life services. There are also many in-home mobile services that can be less traumatic. If you are planning a long trip and your pet is not doing well and it is clear his time is near, please make the decision to let him go before you leave.
How to deal with it when the time comes? It is so, so difficult. I will give you advice that I learned while working in an oncology referral clinic. Do not let your pet get so sick that the last memory of him is a horrible one. Your vet can help you with this. I have made the mistake of waiting too long and regretting it to this day.
Last difficult decision
The last difficult decision you will need to make is if you want to cremate your pet and, if so, have a memorial box or urn for their ashes. Or do you want to bury him at home? If you want the former, any clinic can have the cremains mailed to you. But if you are on the road and you want to bring her home for burial, it becomes much more difficult and more emotionally painful. This is why I encourage you to not take your pet on the road if he is not doing well.
I know how hard this is. It is important to keep at the front of your mind the wonderful life you have given your pet and the responsibility of helping him pass is a heavy one but one that we are blessed to have. When you do make the decision to let him pass, make plans to celebrate his life. Get out the pictures and videos. Make a toast to his memory. And never forget: Your pet is never gone – he lives in your heart forever.
Here are some resources that may help:
- Coping With the Loss of a Pet
- 7 Self-Care Essentials While Grieving the Death of a Pet
- Coping with the Death of your Pet
If you have ever dealt with the loss of a pet on the road, please leave a comment and tell us about your experience. Thank you.
Ask the Pet Vet
Fido feeling under the weather? Fifi been having some tummy troubles? Worried about ticks? What’s better, wet food or dry food? Wondering how to clip your pet’s nails? Ask veterinarian Dr. Karel Carnohan your questions. Please include a description of your pet’s issue or a question you’re curious about. Upload a photo of your pet if you choose. Dr. Karel will do her best to answer your questions.
We hit the road in 2018 with our 16 year old lab mix Max. We developed a palliative care plan with the vet. She gave us some medications to help with pain, anxiety, nausea and loss of appetite. The vets advice and meds helped us through the first 6 weeks of the trip. Unfortunately at that point he went downhill very suddenly. We were 2500 miles from home so searched for a dignified way to have him euthanized. I stumbled on the Lap of Love website. Through Lap of Love we found a compassionate vet that came to our trailer to help Max over the Rainbow Bridge.
We knew the end was near for our 16-year-old with failing kidneys and liver. He’d been deaf for a few years and had recently gone blind. But he still was happy as long as he was near us. When almost to our destination for our first outing of spring, he let out a kind of cry that he’d never made before. My wife and I looked at each other and knew exactly what that meant. While letting him out to do his business before bed, he kept trying to wander away from our camp. I let him wander until he found a spot and just laid down. This was classic canine behavior for “I’m ready to go”.
I picked him up and we went back to the camper. Into the night, he kept wandering the camper looking for a way out. I finally got out of bed and held him until he fell asleep. The next morning we found an emergency vet in a nearby town and made the appointment. We took our final walk on a lake shore, and he took a final nap in my lap. Afterward, his remains were to be shipped back home to us.
So sad, John. I’m sorry. I lost my Buddy (unexpectedly) one year ago yesterday. It’s so difficult, still. Take care. 🤗 –Diane at RVtravel.com
Sorry to hear that, Diane. Yes, it’s still difficult. The decision about what we had to do was relatively easy, since he basically told us. But going through the process itself was hard, and we’re still somewhat raw almost a year later.
Nobody will love you like your dog does. The only time I saw my dad cry was when the dog died.
Thanks, John. Buddy was definitely my protector and constant companion. He had been severely abused for 3 years before I found him at the local shelter, after he had been returned by at least one other potential adopter. When I found him, he had been back at the shelter for at least 3 months (that time). So, when he came home with me and had a very loving and patient “mom,” he would not leave my side. (I could have nicknamed him “Velcro”!) It was a shock when he was as active and hyper as a (100 lb.) puppy one week and died the next week. I still tear up. But thank you for your kind words. I appreciate them, and I grieve along with you and everyone else who has lost a close furry member of our family. Have a good night. 🙂 –Diane
So sorry for your loss Diane!
Thank you, Lindalee. We all go through it, unfortunately. But maybe the more we hurt with their loss, that means the more they were loved, and I’m sure they knew it. Mine sure did, and showed his love in return constantly. Like I know you love your furry family members, and vice versa, Lindalee. Have a good night. 🙂 -Diane
Thank you. 🙂
Unfortunately, my wife and I are members of this group. We lost our Blue, Great Dane while out on a camping trip. He absolutely LOVED to go camping and he passed, doing what he loved! He passed in his sleep, my wife found him in his bed in the front of the rv. We were devastated, completely heart broken and lost on what we should do. Luckily, we were only a few hours away from home. We decided to end the trip and head home. We have a 40 foot diesel pusher and pulling a car. Great Danes are pretty heavy and my wife and I couldn’t pick him up to get him to the car. I’m disabled. So, went and asked the neighbors at the campground we were in for help. Camping folks are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met!! Two guys came over and helped get him in the car, they formed a circle around us and prayed for us then we came home and buried him on our property. This was the hardest, most emotional camping trip we have ever been on!! The hardest part of having a pet, is saying goodbye!!
Excellent article. Six GSDs and 3 cats in our 52 years as a family went over their ‘Rainbow Bridge’ in the compassionate care of our local veterinarian. We have been blessed by their presence as we have traveled throughout the United States and Canada.
When my IW was diagnosed with metastatic bone cancer many, many years ago I asked our friend and veterinarian how I would know it was time to let her go. His answer was something I didn’t understand at the time, “On her last good day”. We have the opportunity to give our beloved family pets a good death and he was saying as Dr. Karel says, don’t wait until your last memory is one of pain and suffering. We always hope for one more good day but sometimes that doesn’t come.
We’ve dealt with the passing of 7 beloved dog-kids in the past 40 years. We had to make the final decision on 6 of them and, as most have said, it is HARD. We do agree that we should be able to alleviate their suffering and not extend it for our own need to be with them. (By the way, the 7th went out with a bang on July 4th .. At 14+ she had just chased her last ball .. Came back to the RV for a drink and laid down with a sigh .. Heart attack)
I always remind myself that, despite how painful it is to lose our pets, it’s better that we outlive them.
We have left final instructions with friends and family in case we go first. Our pets are in our wills so that those left behind are supported and cared for till they are placed in a good and loving home. We have done the same for friends of ours who have passed suddenly and left their fur friends behind.
While on an annual summer vacation, with our first dog, who was healthy when we began our trip suddenly became ill and after two trips to a local veterinary clinic the decision was made to have her put to sleep. This was very traumatic to our two young children as well as to us. Then the decision had to be made, what do we do now? We decided to have her remains cremated and shipped back to our home. Every dog since then has also been cremated and kept with us at our home. Just yesterday we had to have our latest dog (Bella) put to sleep as her health had failed. Very ironic (sad) this happened as we prepare to depart this coming Wednesday for our winter travel to California and Arizona. Bella traveled with us over the past 11 years giving us lots of wonderful memories.
Our first year full-time rving we traveled with Karli Sue 14 and Bobo 10. Karli’s kidneys were wearing out. Otherwise she had no health issues. While in Elkhart, IN getting our first year warranty work done Karli, now 15, woke up one morning and let us know it was time. She wasn’t in pain but had no luster, energy, or desire to eat. We found a wonderful vet practice that took us in, contacted our vet back home, ran appropriate tests to determine that she was in kidney failure, and helped us let go of her peacefully with Bobo on hand as well. They had her cremated for us and two days later we had her ashes with a molded paw print. We took her home to our property and spread her ashes. Bobo is now 15 with no health issues thus far. He was so bonded with Karli that he’s refused allowing another dog to join our family and enjoys his “pack” of three.
Thank you Lee Ann. It is never easy but you gave Karli a wonderful life and a peaceful passing. ❤️
We were faced with his when one of our dogs became seriously ill while traveling. The prior year Sammy had a tumor appear in his mouth. When removed they found melanoma. He received the melanoma vaccine injections and seemed to us, and his oncologist, to be cancer free. So we left on a long planned, nearly four month trip. Almost three months into the trip, Sammy had a seizure. A wonderful local vet (we were in Idaho), did a full exam while an alert, happy Sammy explored his clinic. With no answers, we continued our trip. At the next multiple day stop (now in Wyoming) we decided to err on the side of caution and have full blood work done just to be sure. The local vet there had the ability to process the tests and we had the results of his last blood work before we left home. His results had actually improved. So we continued on our trip as planned. I’ll continue the story as a reply to this posting.
Cont – Next multiple day stop was in South Dakota. Almost a week into our week long stay, Sammy had another seizure. A trip to the emergency vet in Rapid City resulted in a diagnosis of epilepsy. We were given a seizure med and returned back to the RV with a happy, playful dog. That changed that evening. Sammy began wandering around the coach, bumping into walls, trying to climb cabinets, constantly moving. I padded the entire coach with every pillow we owned, sent my hubby to bed and spent a long night getting small naps when he would settle laying on my chest for about 30 minutes before beginning the wandering again. First thing in the morning we were back at the emergency vet. After a long discussion with the vet we were advised to seek a veterinary neurologist – the closest in Minneapolis or Salt Lake City – while Sammy tried to climb the walls of the exam room. I insisted on having full X-rays done – which confirmed my suspicions. Sammy’s body – and brain – were full of tumors.
Cont again – Sammy’s melanoma had returned with a vengeance. It was time to say goodby. The emergency vet was wonderful and gave us time and comfort and gently eased Sammy over the bridge. His ashes actually arrived home before we did, along with a paw print and a wonderful card signed by the staff at the emergency hospital. That was a few years ago. We lost another fur baby on another trip just as suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s never easy but the vets, staff, campground folks and complete strangers have all been caring and kind. And our babies passed doing what they loved too – seeing new sights and checking out all those new sniffs and friends. Thanks to those who took the time to read this long post. Our Sammy was a special guy and he will always live in our hearts.
This sounds like what our bulldog went through. Sometimes I think the medicine (Gabapentin) was worse on him than than the tumor.
Thank you for sharing Sammy’s story. You were kind and caring guardians and gave Sammy a wonderful life. ❤️
The story of Remy continued….
Dr. Nicole took her away for cremation and a couple of weeks later, we received a lovely casket by mail with her ashes, a brass nameplate, a lock of Remy’s hair….and a plaster disc with an imprint of her paw and her name. This last item caused us to totally break into tears, but it was good to grieve in a positive type way. What a lovely surprise and a caring touch. Serene Passages…….Recommended highly if you happen to be in the South West. (909-654-7774). We are comforted that we did the right thing at the right time with the right person. It’s never easy whatever situation one is in. We miss Remy every day and will for eternity. Hope this is helpful for some folks. John and Donna H.
Thank you John and Donna for sharing this with us.
The story of Remy continued…..
Thanks to a friend who was working at a beautiful resort in Indio, CA, an area we were familiar with, we drove through the night and arrived the next day to a most beautiful resort (Indian Waters) and a lovely site next to a large pond and fountain. Our immediate task was to obviously arrange what all pet owners dread. We found “Serene Passages” and Dr. Nicole in Redlands CA. They serve the south west part of California, but there are many of these vet services for end of life all over the country. Dr. Nicole (I forget her last name, but everyone knows her by her first), came to our RV within 48 hours equipped with everything. She spent almost 2 hours with us and Remy and eased the inevitable pain for all of us with kind and gentle words and presence. Remy fell asleep and a little smile came over her face as if to say “Thanks”……..
A wonderful story of Remy the dog:
We had to confront the loss of our wonderful back Lab, Remy, just over 2 months ago. Remy was almost 11 years old and was diagnosed with a kidney problem about 18 months before she passed. We had adjusted her diet slightly and gave her medications to maintain her comfort. During 2020 our travels (and I’m sure, many other folks too) were halted due to the pandemic. We hunkered down with our son for the year before hitting the road again in June ’21. Remy was maintaining and enjoying life on the road all the way from New England to Oregon and south along the coast. (She loved the beach and the blue Pacific). Remy was a little slower as we headed down the 101 towards CA. Her appetite and energy faded quickly and we immediately planned to get to a longer term spot to attend to her comfort. …..
We recently decided not to take our 20+ year old cat along on a 6 week trip. Our vet told us she most likely would not make it home again. As hard as the decision was, I know it was the right one. Thank you for your confirmation.
Thank you for your compassion and kindness.